For African Americans in the South during the period of independence, the problem of national loyalty is one that forced many to closely examine where they stood on the spectrum of revolution. Most of the enslaved were not afforded the opportunity to choose between American Revolutionaries or British Loyalists, their lot was decided well before they were born into this world. Still, many Africans knew and understood their position as chattel and by extension understood the difference between being under the yoke of the Crown versus being a ward of the emerging American colonies. By extension, when given the choice, many African Americans, particularly those with any semblance of power and/or position, would choose the British Crown because it seemed to presented the enslaved with opportunities that would not exist for those enslaved by the American colonists. Appropriately, the life of David George is one that was defined by this push and pull of loyalties: the Crown, the Colonists or the Creator, which resulted in the development of an African American Baptist tradition that would return to the shores of Africa.
David George was born into enslavement in 1743 in Essex County, Virginia. At a young age George escaped the planation of his birth, and remained on the run within the Commonwealth until he migrated to the territory of South Carolina. In the Carolina territory he was captured by a Creek chief named Blue Salt who kept him as a prized commodity and worker. George eventually absconded from the Creek chief only to be recaptured by a Scottish trader named George Gauflin. The trader had a strong relationship with the Creek and was allowed to keep David George. As well, Gauflin had a number of enslaved Africans who had intermarried with the Creek, or were products of African-Creek intermarriage. One such woman, Phyllis, caught the eye of David George and eventually the two married in the late 1700s and started to develop their family.
Throughout the Atlantic coastal region of the South (Virginia, North/South Carolina and Georgia) the Baptist tradition was well established. George, by all accounts, founded the first African American congregation in the United States in Silver Bluff, South Carolina. The Silver Buff Baptist Church of South Carolina was developed through the efforts of David George and a white minister known simply as, Palmer. Albert Raboteau author of Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South states: “This church owed its beginning to the preaching of a white Baptist minister named Palmer who preached to the slaved of one George Gauflin at Silver Buff.” Palmer was very invested in the religious education of the enslaved and converted eight African Americans to form the foundation of the Silver Buff church. In addition, he appointed George to the position of elder within the congregation. Further, the founding of this church was very impactful for African Americans in the South. Many of the enslaved became well acquainted with stories of the George’s church through traveling revivals and prayer meetings; it is therefore highly likely that David George was very influential to George Liele and Andrew Bryan. Their respective paths may have even crossed at one point.
As George matured in the Gospel, the conflict between the Brits and the Colonialists also grew. Representatives of the Crown aided in the emigration of many Africans who loyalties remained true (readers will recall that George Liele migrated to Jamaica during the heat of the conflict, where he was able to develop his own Church). For David George, as Liele went South, he was escorted North to the Canadian province Nova Scotia, along with 3500 other people of African descent seeking asylum from the war and the institution of slavery. In Canada, George continued his work as a religious leader and developed a Baptist congregation for the wartime migrants in Shelburne. However, this establishment would not last long; despite the fact that the former American migrants had absconded from American enslavement, they were met by racist mobs in Canada of white Americans whom had also fled. In what is historically known as the Shelburne Riots, mobs of displaced white Americans brought their racist ideals and methods with them to the Canadian territories, resulting in a number of conflicts.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that American customs and ideals had followed George and his family to Nova Scotia, they were still able to settle in an African American community called Birchtown for a number of years. At this time as well the British were establishing colonies/townships for free Blacks in several locales on the continent of Africa. One such township called Freetown was established in Sierra Leone. This town was primarily established for emancipated Africans who were educated in the British system and had been converted to Christianity. As well, these free-returning-migrant Africans were to be used in the continued colonization efforts of the British in Africa. George and his family settled in Sierra Leone sometime in the late-1770s/early-1780s, where they would begin setting up missions under the British flag.
Further, in Sierra Leone, George and his family (progeny included) became a very critical part of the colony. The first Baptist church in Sierra Leone was founded through the efforts of George, as well his family is responsible for organizing returning African migrants, much like the Americo-Liberians, into a recognized ethnic minority that comprises about five percent of the country’s current population. The colonization of African lands by returning African Americans created a cultural divide amongst the people that has resulted in serious conflict over the centuries, this is especially true in Liberia’s case. However, despite issues of identity and ownership George’s descendants have been very active in Sierra Leone and have worked with organizations and the country’s government to address the cultural divide within the country and reach-out to Africans throughout the diaspora in order to foster a sense of unity.
George’s original congregation, the Silver Bluff Baptist Church hobbled its way through the 19th century, supported by the enslaved Africans that remained after George absconded to Canada and the Gauflin family who continued their backing of the institution. To elaborate, the church body was moved to Augusta, Georgia shortly after the Revolutionary War. In Augusta, the church changed their name to the Springfield Baptist Church in 1801. In the early part of the 20th century, historian Walter Brooks connected the histories of the Silver Bluff and Springfield Baptist church and proclaimed it as the oldest African American congregation in the US. Though there are a couple other churches that claim this distinction, the history of the David George and the Silver Bluff Baptist Church has a solid right to the history.
 James W. Walker. The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. (University of Toronto Press, 1992), 4-6.
 Simon Schama, Rough Crossings. (Toronto: Penguin Group, 2005). This point still seems to be highly disputed as record keeping was not as meticulous as it is in the present day.
 Albert Raboteau. Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 139-140.
 Ibid., 139.
 James W. Walker. The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. (University of Toronto Press, 1992), 12.
 Howard Zinn. A People’s History of the United States. (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), 88-89.
 Barry Cahill. "Stephen Blu in Loyalist Nova Scotia". (Nova Scotia Historical Review), 129.
 Sherri Borden Colley. “After 200 years without land title, Nova Scotia black community offered hope: Black Loyalists, Black Refugees were given land, but no title, in 1775 and 1812.” www.cbc.ca. Accessed Sept 28, 2017. This article address the problem of ownership of Canadian lands two centuries after David George and other refugees absconded to Canada.
 The United States had established a similar colony in the African territory currently known as Liberia which is the neighboring country.
 James W. Walker. The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. (University of Toronto Press, 1992), 145. This ethnic group is referred to as the Krio, which is an adaptation of the word Creole. This ethnic group is comparable to the colonial descendants from Liberia; Liberia represents an America colony which like the British endeavored to return stolen Africans to the African continent to form colonies.
 James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton. In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860. (London: Oxford University Press), 186.
 War torn Liberia has been in constant conflict since the period of African American emigration.
 Albert Raboteau. Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 139.
 The Gauflin family being reference are the descendants of the Africans enslaved by the Gauflins.
 Walter H. Brooks, "The Priority of the Silver Bluff Church and Its Promoters," Journal of Negro History (April 1922).
The development of First African Baptist Church began through the efforts of George Liele in Savannah, Georgia. What was once a British military strong hold became the setting for the foundation of the African American Baptist community in the Antebellum South. As discussed, Liele left for Jamaica with the withdrawal of the British Army, which begs the question: what happened to those left behind? Who would tend to the spiritual well-being of the African American Baptist converts who were not fortunate enough to abscond from the American South? The answer came from a familiar face of Georgian religious life in the form of Andrew Bryan.
Andrew Bryan was born into enslavement in Goose Creek, South Carolina on the Brampton Plantation. Like Liele and many other enslaved Africans of the Southern colonies, Bryan’s enslaver was English and beholding to the British Crown. As a result, at a young age Bryan became involved with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), a British organization devoted to missionary work of the Anglican Church. It is not clear if Bryan was ever a devoted member of the Anglican church, however it is clear that through the SPG he began the work that eventually led him to becoming a religious leader for African Americans in the deep South. Through his involvement with the SPG, Bryan traveled throughout the South preaching to the enslaved and gaining a reputation as a promising orator and counselor. His path would eventually cross with Liele’s as he grew in the Gospel. In the late 1700s, a relationship formed between the two and they began working in tandem as preachers, however this did not last long before Liele fled to Jamaica.
After Liele and the British Army’s departure, Bryan continued preaching but he and his flock were forced to find their own spiritual path. Much of the preaching that was done by Bryan was monitored by overseers outside of church walls, perhaps in a clearing or off to the side of a church building. That is to say, the conditions of Bryan’s work as a spiritual leader was like that of any other captive African in the antebellum South: very little comforts, save for the grace of the Word and even that was heavily supervised and at times tailored to project a particular message that had been previously approved. Religious meetings among Africans without the presence of overseers were known to be war-rooms of rebellions to come; therefore the work of Bryan was always monitored. Because of this, Bryan and his flock were often harassed, arrested and beaten, and at times the violence from Whites led to torture or death. In one particular instance, Andrew Bryan and another man named Sampson were arrested on the charge of conspiracy for preaching the Word. However, Andrew Bryan had been given permission to preach by his handler Johnathan Bryan. Appropriately, Johnathan went to court on the behalf of both Andrew and Sampson, and they were later released.
After this incident, Andrew continued his work with the church and again started drawing large flocks on Sunday mornings. The reason why Bryan was so successful in his efforts was because of the support of white religious leaders and land owners; through their backing and Bryan’s efforts as a preacher, the First Bryan Baptist Church was founded. To elaborate, early in 1788, Andrew’s flock had grown to the point that the congregation needed a building to accommodate the need. However, an enslaved person owning anything in the antebellum South but the breathe they breathed was extremely difficult, but not impossible. In the same year, Johnathan Bryan’s health was failing and he eventually succumbed to death. Naturally, all of Johnathan’s property went to his next of kin William Bryan (son), but Andrew was bequeathed enough money to buy his freedom from William with ample left over to procure the land and materials that he would need to build a church of his own. Further, he was given the blessing of other Baptist preachers he had worked with to build his congregation; one letter states: “This is to certify, that the Ethiopian church of Jesus Christ at Savannah, have called their beloved Andrew to the work of the ministry. We have examined into his qualifications, and believing it to be the will of the great head of the church, we have appointed him to preach the Gospel, and to administer the ordinances, as God in his providence may call.”
1793 is perhaps this most appropriate founding year of the First Bryan Baptist Church. Though the ground work for the Church was laid more than a decade earlier with Bryan’s efforts, 1793 marked the year that the land was purchased and construction began. By the early 19th century, between 1802 and 1805, construction was complete and the First Bryan Baptist Church began to solidify alliances with other congregations of Savannah, namely: the First African Baptist Church, the Savannah Baptist Church and Newington Baptist Church. The collective was called the Savannah River Baptist Association. Moreover, apart from the collective, Bryan’s work as a Baptist preacher was so popular among the enslaved in Savannah that he eventually was forced to build a second and third African Baptist church to accommodate the growth.
The Bryan African Baptist Church has a unique position in African American religious history given the circumstances of its founding. The Antebellum South can be counted as one of the worse places to be for people of African descent, historically speaking, yet many African Americans were able to carve out a sense of spiritual being and belonging despite this. Bryan was not able to abscond with the British as Liele was; therefore, he and his flock were always extremely exposed in slave-holding-Georgia. This could not have been an easy task. Nevertheless, Andrew Bryan not only built a church in the heart of Dixie, he also developed a network of religious institutions devoted to the spiritual uplift of Africans in the antebellum South. This legacy has remained solid for over two centuries and is currently a part of the Historical Register of Historical Places.
 John W. Davis. “George Liele and Andrew Bryan, Pioneer Negro Baptist Preachers.” The Journal of Negro History, 3 (2), 123-124.
 Sandy Dwayne Martin. "Andrew Bryan (1737-1812)". (Georgia Humanities Council and the University of Georgia Press).
 Walter H. Brooks. "The Evolution of the Negro Baptist Church." The Journal of Negro History 7, no. 1 (1922): 15-17.
 John W. Davis. “George Liele and Andrew Bryan, Pioneer Negro Baptist Preachers.” The Journal of Negro History, 3 (2), 124. Bryan began preaching full time within a year of Liele Departure to Jamaica.
 Alan Gallay. The Formation of a Planter Elite: Jonathan Bryan and the Southern Colonial Frontier. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007), 52.
 Simms, James Meriles. The First Colored Baptist Church in North America: Constituted at Savannah, Georgia, January 20, AD 1788. With Biographical Sketches of the Pastors. JB Lippincott Company, 1888, 20-22.
 John W. Davis. “George Liele and Andrew Bryan, Pioneer Negro Baptist Preachers.” The Journal of Negro History, 3 (2), 124. “When Goerge Liele was preaching in and near Savannah, he did not suffer from such molestation, because the British then ruled the country, but Andrew Bryan began his work under different conditions about the time when Georgia became independent.”
 Alan Gallay. The Formation of a Planter Elite: Jonathan Bryan and the Southern Colonial Frontier. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007), 53-54. David S. Williams. From Mounds to Megachurches: Georgia’s Religious Heritage. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008), 36. The property was purchased by William himself for Andrew and his family to live on and to build the church.
 John W. Davis. “George Liele and Andrew Bryan, Pioneer Negro Baptist Preachers.” The Journal of Negro History, 3 (2), 126. Letter written by Abraham Marshall, Baptist pastor and a colleague of the Bryans.
 Ibid., 125.
 James Meriles Simms. The First Colored Baptist Church in North America: Constituted at Savannah, Georgia, January 20, AD 1788. With Biographical Sketches of the Pastors. (JB Lippincott Company, 1888), 55-56.
 John W. Davis. “George Liele and Andrew Bryan, Pioneer Negro Baptist Preachers.” The Journal of Negro History, 3 (2), 127.
 Ibid., 127. There were some set-backs over the years. For example, the growth of Bryan’s church slowed during the 1830s because of fear caused by Nat Turners rebellion.
The American South has always been an arduous setting to nurture any semblance of freedom for its African population. The efforts of Varick and Allen, while extremely difficult in their own right, had the distinct advantage of being wrought above the Mason-Dixon Line. Below that illusory border the difficulties of being African in America increased exponentially. Yet, African Americans cradled in Dixie’s bosom still managed to develop religious movements that would reverberate throughout history. For example, George Liele became a Baptist preacher in the American South a century before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. He also became one of the first American missionaries of the Baptist Church at a time when escape from the tumultuous South for people of African descent was but a dream with nightmarish consequences. Appropriately, this essay will examine the efforts of Liele in the development of the First African Baptist Church.
George Liele (also known as George Sharp) was born in to slavery in Virginia around 1752 to Liele and Nancy Sharp. Sometime during his childhood/adolescence he was moved to Georgia where he was baptized and became heavily involved in the Baptist Church. The Baptist congregation that Liele joined was a satellite of the Baptist Church of England which was in somewhat of a precarious position as an extension of the Crown during the period of American independence. However, Liele, like his enslaver Henry Sharp, was a loyalist during the American Revolutionary period and had no interest in defecting to the Yankees because he understood social position of Africans in the American South (with the British there was at least the opportunity for social advancement). Moreover, as a Baptist under the Crown he made it clear that his focus was on the spiritual welfare of African people, stating: “[I desire] to prove the sense I had of my own obligation to God, I endeavored to instruct the people of my own color in the word of God: the white bretheren seeing my endeavors and that the word of the Lord seemed to be blessed gave me a call at a quarterly meeting to preach before a congregation.”
Liele’s handler Sharp fought in the Revolutionary War and fell, possibly at the Battle Brier Creek. After Sharp’s death, Liele was emancipated and remained loyal to the Crown by continuing to organize a Baptist congregation in Savannah, Georgia under the British flag. Savannah was a stronghold for Britain as well as a location of reprieve for those who absconded to freedom because the Crown offered emancipation for enslaved Africans who fought on their side. Liele used this to the advantage of the British Baptist Church in that he would convert manumitted Africans. Moreover, in Savannah Liele was allowed to organize both the First Bryan Baptist Church (with Andrew Bryan) and the First African Baptist Church.
Liele’s fidelity to the Crown would eventually force him and other loyalists to vacate the Georgia territory as the war began to favor the Yanks. Liele was one of many who fled to Jamaica during the heart of the Revolutionary conflict because the Island remained a British strong hold. He arrived on the island sometime in 1783 and continued his dutiful work with enslaved Africans in Jamaica. However, the maturation of the Baptist church of Jamaica did not have an easy go of it due to the presence of the Anglican Church, the principal Christian denomination of the Island. To be clear, the Baptist presence in Jamaica was problematic for the Anglicans not simply because they were unwilling to share spiritual space with a different tradition, instead, socially and politically the Baptist church represented a shift for the colony, especially for its bondsmen and women. Essentially, the Baptist church wanted to do away with the umbrella governance of the Anglican Church, so that individual congregations could exercise more autonomy. As well, the Baptist Church of England advocated for the education of the enslaved, to which the leaders of the Anglican Church were vehemently opposed. Nevertheless, Liele won the support from London, with the help of Moses Baker (a convert of Liele who would prove to very impactful in the spiritual lives of the enslaved in Jamaica), by writing the first covenant of the Ethiopian Baptist of Jamaica: a document which ensured the development of Baptist education among the enslaved Africans of the Island as well as their loyalty to their masters as law-abiding subjects under the Crown.
The founding of the Black Baptist movement in America is truly remarkable when compared to the AME/AMEZ movement in that they represent almost polar opposites of each other. To explain, the AME/AMEZ movements were founded in the North and driven by the American revolutionary spirit for freedom and independence; whereas the First African Baptist Church was founded in the antebellum South and was loyal to the British Crown. In both contexts, the principal focus for the organizations was autonomy and freedom. In the North, Freedom was something that had shape and substance for African Americans, even if complete equality impossible. However, for some bondsmen and women in the South during the revolutionary period, the only path to freedom, save for a treacherous trip to the North, was through loyalty to Britain. It seems that Liele was keenly aware of this paradox and rightly took the path of least resistance. Further, this path led to the conversion of thousands of Jamaicans to the Baptist Church of England under the guidance of Liele, who remained active until his death in 1828.
There is no indication that Liele ever returned to Georgia, yet his legacy remains strong with the First African Baptist Church. To elaborate, since the late 1700s the Church has gone through a number of variations and iterations, yet it has sustained itself through the 21st century as both a physical edifice and communal church body. Some of original sanctuary and its memorabilia (pews, quilts and artwork) still exist. As well, much of the original documents of the congregation has been archived at the Church’s museum and can be dated back to the initial founding by George Liele himself. The remarkable record keeping of this particular institution provides scholars and historians with an extremely important lens into the religious/spiritual life of Africans in the antebellum South. This reveals one of the most important aspects of church life for African Americans: it is not necessarily the theology or even the effort to “save” one’s soul, on the contrary, it is the maintenance of historical knowledge that becomes the record of one’s existence, a display of their trials and triumphs as well as proof of their thought and philosophy which invariably cements their humanity.
 Carter G. Woodson. History of the Negro Church. (Associated Publishers, 1921).
 Liele, George, Stephen Cooke, Abraham Marshall, Jonathan Clarke, and Thomas Nichols Swigle. "Letters Showing the Rise and Progress of the Early Negro Churches of Georgia and the West Indies." The Journal of Negro History 1, no. 1 (1916): 69.
 Walter H. Brooks. "The Evolution of the Negro Baptist Church." The Journal of Negro History 7, no. 1 (1922): 15-16.
 Ibid., 70-71.
 Ibid., 14-15.
 This legislation was called the Dunmore Proclamation. Alan Gilbert. Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012). Jim Piecuch. Three Peoples, One King: Loyalists, Indians, and Slaves in the Revolutionary South, 1775-1782 (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).
 Walter H. Brooks. "The Evolution of the Negro Baptist Church." The Journal of Negro History 7, no. 1 (1922): 16-17.
 Gerloff, Roswith. "The African diaspora in the Caribbean and Europe from pre-emancipation to the present day." The Cambridge History of Christianity 9 (2006): 6.
 Davis, John W. (1918). “George Liele and Andrew Bryan, Pioneer Negro Baptist Preachers.” Journal of Negro History. 3 (2): 119–127.
 Boston University School of Theology. George Liele: http://www.bu.edu/missiology/missionary-biography/l-m/liele-george-c-1750-1828/. Accessed July 2017.
 First African Baptist Church. “History”: http://firstafricanbc.com/history.asp. Accessed July, 2017.
Around the same time Allen, Jones and the other early members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church were establishing the foundations of their throng; James Varick was making similar moves in New York to establish the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ). The AMEZ also began under very similar circumstances in New York: as a safe place for people of African descent to worship, without the burden of racial discrimination and/or European American religious paternalism. New Yorkers were not immune to racist notions and assumptions as modern historical narratives might suggest, Africans in the Northern colonies struggled constantly against ignorance and hatred. As such, Varick and the AMEZ faithful developed out of the struggle against the merciless enslavement and racist oppression of African people. Again, the period of independence for early America underscores the efforts of Varick and his keen understanding and awareness of exactly what freedom means for those whose freedom was marginalized.
Varick’s story begins in 1750 near Newburgh, New York. His mother may have been enslaved by the Varicks but his father was born free in New Jersey. James received his early education in New York City while working to support himself and his family. He became heavily involved in the Methodist Church sometime in the mid-1760s and quickly became a community leader for Black members of the John Street Methodist Church. Varick was an integral element of the John Street church despite the fact that he could not be ordained as a minister because of his race, he led meetings and worked diligently to establish a space for Black people to worship freely. To this end, in 1800 he organized what would become the first AMEZ Church however he would not be ordained as a minister for a number of years. As such the Zion Church was initially led by white ministers despite having all Black congregations. In spite of allowing Black people to organize and develop their own space for worship White paternalism ruled the early foundation of the AMEZ.
Use of the term Zion for the AMEZ church is focused around the need for a Zion-esque safe-space for worship. Meaning, visionaries like Varick understood the necessity of spaces for black people to worship apart from the European religious gaze. Religious self-segregation is very necessary with in a community or colony that is centered on the exploitation of the downtrodden. It is a means of survival for the oppressed and not to be confused with the self-segregating efforts of white supremacists and xenophobes. The notion of Zion within the structure of the AMEZ church suggests it was a place beyond the gaze of white religious normality and the reach of dehumanizing racism. Moreover, Zion’s freedom was not just focused on cultural independence but religious and historical identity as well. Meaning, the Zion faithful had no interest in being engulfed by Allen and the AME; the AMEZ had to have its own identity. To this end, in 1820 the decision was made to strongly pursue the ordination of Black ministers in order to solidify the purpose and direction of the AMEZ movement, and on September 30th the congregation elected Varick and Abraham Thompson as the first elders of the organization which allowed them hold communion services, instead of only prayer meetings, a critical rite for Methodists. Further, the foundation of the movement was concretely solidified in June of the following year with two major developments: the inaugural convention of the AMEZ and the official ordination of Abraham Thompson, Leven Smith and James Varick.
AMEZ worship and religious structure is very similar to that of the AME. In fact, the only qualities separating the denominations are their respective locations of founding and the term Zion. Where they differ most is in their particular histories. For example, with the founding of the AMEZ there was not the same drama as with the walk-out staged by Allen. Carter G. Woodson remarks, “[Varick and his faithful] had not been disturbed in their worship to the extent experienced by Richard Allen and his coworkers in Philadelphia, but they had a ‘desire for the privilege of holding meetings of their own, where they might have an opportunity to exercise their spiritual gifts among themselves, and thereby be more useful to one another.’" The need for autonomy was no less pressing for Varick, however Allen and his group definitely had to endure a more Southern reaction to their presence in the early stages of AME’s development. Regardless, Varick’s effort laid the path for religious choice for African American New Yorkers as well as a separate identity for the AMEZ faithful apart from the AME.
Furthermore, in discussing the early development of the Black church, particularly in the North, there are issues of self-segregation that color the conversation. That is to ask, is there an issue with timing that that Varick and Allen (and African Americans generally speaking) should have considered when immersed in development? Self-segregation is an extremely important issue for oppressed peoples. At times the conversation gets warped into the need to comfort the oppressor, to not move too fast or ask for too much. To be clear, it is not the responsibility of African people (or any oppressed persons) to consider the feelings of white people when calling-out the problem of racism, brutality and subjugation. Moreover, regarding the problem of white comfort with the when and how of Black people’s efforts for freedom, it must be noted that historically white Christians are known to vacillate with African American concerns regarding freedom and racism within its own walls. Varick faced many challenges in developing the AMEZ, not the least of which came from well-meaning whites who supported his ideas but believed he needed to step lightly for the comfort of white church leaders.
Appropriately, Varick’s only concern was the spiritual well-being of his community not the emotional comfort of white Americans. The fundamental value of a church, mosque or any other religious body in any given community is the maintenance of the spiritual well-being of that community. Therefore, the organizations, movements, temples and congregations of that community are obligated to address those needs. Otherwise, they are exploitive. Varick’s effort with the AMEZ reflects the need for safe spiritual spaces within a hostile environment. Additionally, together the AME and the AMEZ churches are direct products of their time and critical examples of the spirit of independence in America at the turn of the 19th century. As religious organizations they represent both the freedom to worship and the necessity of independent autonomous worship. Moreover, the efforts of Allen and Varick are critical examples of African people choosing the what, why and how of free worship: what form of worship or denomination would best suit the needs of the community; why they worship; and how or in what manner does worship take place? To have these choices suggests a level of autonomy that most African American would not be able to experience or enjoy well into the 20th century. Yet, Varick, Allen and their respective ilk developed entire religious bodies based on these choices over a half-century b
 African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Website: http://www.amez.org/our-church. Accessed June 2017.
 Carter G. Woodson. History of the Negro Church. (Associated Publishers, 1921), 78.
 Ibid., 78.
 Ibid., 79.
 Kunnie, J. E. "Black Churches in the United States and South Africa: Similarities and Differences." Afro-Christianity at the Grassroots: Its Dynamic and Strategies (1994), 81.
 Carter G. Woodson. History of the Negro Church. (Associated Publishers, 1921), 82.
 Ibid., 78.
 Albert Raboteau. Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). Regardless of whether the issues of autonomy was with the development of churches in the North or creating space for a hush harbor on Southern plantations, European Americans constantly demonstrated their lack of comfort with African spiritual independence.
 Martin Luther King, Jr. Why We Can’t Wait. (New York: Penguin Publishing, 2000). The essence of King’s text is centered on white Christian complicity in racist oppression through deliberate inaction.
Africana religious history is rich and dense with a long tradition of philosophical innovation and dynamic thought. Since the first disembarkation of Africans in the Western Hemisphere there has been a concerted effort on the part of the enslaved and free to maintain a sense of humanity, understand the precarious nature of European oppression in light of the presence of the divine, and work towards a sense of physical and spiritual freedom. As such, there are scores of movements and individuals who have taken upon themselves to be the caretakers of the souls of Black folk. Accordingly, the following series of essays will center on the lives of Africana America’s most impactful religious and spiritual leaders, beginning with the one of the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church: Richard Allen.
The story of Richard Allen and the founding of the AME Church began in the late 1700s, however Allen’s personal history begins much earlier in the 18th century. Allen was born on Valentine’s Day 1760 in Philadelphia. He was born the property of Philadelphia lawyer, Benjamin Chew. His family and he were sold to a Delaware landowner named Stokley Sturgis in the late 1770s. Though Methodism was prominent throughout Maryland, Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Sturgis was not a convert. Nevertheless, Sturgis allowed Allen and his brother to attend church and was eventually allowed them to hold Methodists services and prayer meeting on his property. The Methodist church attracted many African Americans into their fold throughout the latter part of the 1700s because of noted anti-slavery beliefs. Methodists believed that the soul as well as the body needed to be free to fully appreciate and fulfill the will of God. Donald G. Mathews in the book Slavery and Methodism: A Chapter in American Morality, 1780-1845 argues that “when American Methodists preachers first formally denounced Negro servitude, it was well established by law and by custom in a majority of the rebellious English colonies.” This caused some difficulties for the Methodist church in the late 18th century, however most were uncompromising in this stance, which led to the Methodist Church’s involvement in the anti-slavery movement throughout the 19th century.
Personally, Allen was attracted to Methodism due to the denomination’s attention to spiritual discipline, personal freedom and devotion. That is to say, Allen believed Methodism, which “provided a detailed prescription of how one should live, supplies communities to observe and encourage one’s moral progress and reinforced one’s commitment to a virtuous life by emotional praying, preaching and revival meetings”, was best suited for Black people in their pursuit for personal, spiritual and collective freedom. Moreover, the foundation of the AME church was birthed by Allen for three reasons: first, he felt Black people needed a religious community for mutual support and the personal direction of parishioners. Second, he felt Methodism was ideal for the largely uneducated, poor and transient Black population of the mid-Atlantic region. And lastly, because Methodists were largely anti-slavery Allen felt the Methodist church provided the best opportunity to create a religious community for people of African descent.
Allen was eventually freed from his bond to Sturgis, in part because of a newly acquired sense of Methodist piety on the part of his owner. As such, Allen moved to Philadelphia and soon began preach at St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia. He attracted many African Americans to St. George’s services but he was relegated to preaching the early morning service and/or preaching outside or in the common area, away from the white faithful. Further, as a method of out-reach Allen and fellow parishioner Absolom Jones organized the Free African Society. This Society, as a mutual aid/out-reach organization, supported the widowed, infirmed, and orphaned and served as pillar of the Philadelphia’s Black community by its members living “orderly and sober lives, distinguished by temperance propriety and martial fidelity.” At St. George’s, White church leaders continuously put their racist notions and postures above the Methodist requisite for equal representation before God. Until 1792 when Allen and other members of the Society, perhaps struck by the fervor of self-determination of the Revolutionary Era, decided independence was the only path moving forward. Allen, Jones and other forward thinking Black members of St. George’s Church staged a walk-out that became the catalyst for the entire AME movement.
The Free African Society and the early stages of the AME church are connected in such a way that it is difficult to talk about one without the other; essentially, the AME church is an out-growth of the Society. Allen was not always a member in part because of this Methodist fervor. He seemed quite locked-in to the notion that the Society needed to have a religious foundation when others thought it best to remain neutral to attract members who perhaps were not Methodist. Nevertheless the Society was integral in providing the space and direction that would lead to the founding of the AME church. The AME church structure and approach towards worship offers a highly diverse but directed approach that is encapsulated in its name. First, African is focused on the origins of the religious movement. Meaning, because the church was founded and organized by people of African descent, its primary focus is on the African diasporic community. This is not to suggest there are tenants of separatism within the movement, there is no evidence to support that notion. Instead, the movement makes it clear that its founding was forced by church elders who refused to address the pressing needs of its Black members; therefore, the church remains centered on the needs of African people, while making it clear that all are welcome within in its walls.
Second, the AME church retains its Methodist worship style. American Methodists were known for their dramatic and emotion worship styles which attracted people of African descent at the time of its founding. This style of worship carried over to the AME church. Allen and members of the Free African Society also wanted to retain Methodist doctrines and order of worship. Meaning, the church focuses on preaching the gospel, in part, through community outreach and diverse forms of philanthropy. From its founding the movement centered itself on out-reach, particular for the all-too-often marginalized African community in the US. Lastly, the church functions under an Episcopal form of church governance which includes a Council of Bishops as its executive branch. This Council meets annually to address the business of its twenty districts which span the globe.
Apart from the Hush Harbors and the institution of Voodoo in New Orleans, the AME Church represents the oldest Africana Church in the United States. Further, the AME church set a tone for how Christianity would be practiced in Black people in the US, by serving as an example of spiritual autonomy within European American dominated Christianity. The AME Church was not hidden or relegated to midnight meetings, nor was it to be dismissed as a primitive throw-back aboriginal cult of mysticism. Instead, Allen and his cohort created institution within the dominant culture despite constant racist push-back. As such the AME church stands critical institution that challenged American religious zeitgeist of the 18th and 19th centuries and laid the foundation for spiritual growth.
 Albert Raboteau. “Richard Allen and the African Church Movement”, Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 2.
 Ibid., 3.
 Donald G. Mathews. Slavery and Methodism: A Chapter in American Morality, 1780-1845. (Princeton University Press, 2015), 3.
 Albert Raboteau. “Richard Allen and the African Church Movement”, Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 8.
 Ibid., 8.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 5.
 There is debate as to whether the walk out was in 1792 or 1793.
 Albert Raboteau. “Richard Allen and the African Church Movement”, Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 4.
 William Douglass. "Annals of the First African Church in the United States of America, now styled The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas." (1862): 34.
 Albert Raboteau. “Richard Allen and the African Church Movement”, Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 5.
 Carolyn S. Beck (1988). "Our Own Vine and Fig Tree: The Authority of History and Kinship in Mother Bethel". Review of Religious Research. 29 (4): 369–84.
African spiritual diversity in the Western Hemisphere has blossomed since the children of the continent were forcibly removed. Accordingly, throughout the Americas and the Caribbean basin there is a clear spiritual presence that tethers a diverse array of peoples and cultures to the Ifá tradition forming pockets of African religious practice throughout the New World. Consequently, the United States, the Caribbean Islands and South America are culturally and historically linked not just through the legacy of slavery or the remnants of colonization but through the survival of Africa’s children who still call on the deities of Ifá. Therefore, to conclude this series on the Ifá tradition, I will briefly survey Ifá traditions of the smaller Caribbean Islands as well as some critical Ifá cultural movements of the US in the 21st century.
The variations of Ifá among the religions of the Caribbean islands create an interesting medley of spiritual belief. For instance, in the Bahamas the variation of Ifá that is practiced is Obeah. By all accounts there is no indication that Obeah was principally used in any uprisings or revolts in the Bahamas, nevertheless after the Takyi revolt in Jamaica the practice of Obeah was outlawed throughout the Caribbean basin. This suggests that the practice of Obeah was greatly feared by colonial Europeans as they had no way of monitoring or controlling the religious practice. As well, the fear of Obeah practice was also well established on the island of Martinique. For European Martiniquais the fear of being poisoned by Obeah practitioners was a constant and looming concern. It was believed that not only was it very likely to be poisoned by some Obeah practitioners, many landowners believed they would be poisoned by those closest to them: a maid, wet nurse and/or cook. However, John Savage in his article “’Black magic’ and White Terror: Slave Poisoning and Colonial Society in Early 19th Century Martinique”, argues that while poisoning was a reality white enslavers had to face, the practice was not as widespread as French paranoia suggested; instead, he claims the real issue was simply a fear of the end of slavery in Martinique and throughout the Caribbean. In Barbados as well Obeah is the chief African syncretic religious practice. As with other English colonies, Barbadian Obeah was banned throughout the populace, but that did not keep practitioners from maintaining the tradition. However, Obeah among Barbadians is primary used as a healing art. This highlights the fact that the modality of Obeah, as with any other religious traditions, is highly dependent on the focus or purpose of the user. Obeah by itself is a neutral spiritual force; it can be used to heal or harm depending on the intent of the practitioner.
Some islands of the Caribbean still retain as much of the Ifá religious practice as possible. To explain, there are many variations of Ifá that took on a life of their own once in the New World, such as Umbanda which focused more heavily on the Portuguese language and Catholic saints. For Trinidad and Tobago however, there is an effort to keep the Ifá religion as close to the original form as possible through the development of Oríshá, formerly called Shangos. The practice of Oríshá throughout Trinidad and Tobago closely resembles the practice of Yoruba Ifá but also infuses elements in the immediate environment. James Houk, author of Spirits, Blood and Drums: The Orisha Religion of Trinidad, states: “Orisha is an old, established form of worship in Nigeria and its environs, which has been transplanted to the New World. As a religion it stands on its own to meet the needs of its devotees. Some worshippers in Trinidad, the Orisha ‘purists’ minimize the integration of extraneous elements so common to New World African-derived religions, proclaiming with pride that this African religion is as sophisticated and complex as any other. Borrowing is nevertheless a primary and important characteristic.” Despite this effort however, Trini Oríshá still incorporates beliefs and philosophies from traditions its shares space with (Hinduism, Christianity and Islam), which reinforces the notion that the Ifá tradition is malleable and adaptable to a variety of social and cultural environments.
The Caribbean islands are inundated with the Ifá spiritual tradition, but what of the US outside the cultural gumbo of New Orleans? In Sheldon, South Carolina, relatively close to the Sea Islands where Geechee and Gullah Americans make their home, rests the Oyotunji Village, first “intentional” African community founded in the United States. This community is a prime example of Ifá cultural practice outside of Africa. Their expressed mission is centered on “Feeding the community, engineering the progress of Black people worldwide, celebrating Yoruba African culture, traditions and heritage through practice, collaborations, education, philanthropy and research.” Within this community they function as they would in Yorubaland of Nigeria; they practice the Ifá religion, adorned themselves in traditional clothing, observe divination, use the Yoruba language and operate as a Nigerian village.
This community stands as an important example of African American retention and preservation of Ifá culture, however, describing the community as “intentional” is somewhat problematic. To explain, the practice of Candomblé, Umbanda, Vodun, Voodoo, Obeah, Santería, Oríshá, and Comfa are very much syncretic belief systems, but there is nothing accidental or unintentional about them. What enslaved and oppressed Africans created in the Americas represents a deliberate effort to preserve their belief systems and philosophies amidst the horrors of their New World experience. To imply that their efforts were fortuitous is to strip the fallen of their agency. African syncretic belief systems in the Americas are in no way accidental, instead they are a focused effort to not only preserve ancient traditions but more importantly they stand as evidence of the continued struggle against white supremacy.
To close this Ifá series it is important to tie the ancient with the contemporary and artist Beyonce Knowles personifies this bridge very well for Africana America. To elaborate, as anti-African violence has seemingly increased in the US, Beyonce has made it clear that she is channeling Yoruba deities in her music videos and photoshoots. Beyonce historically does not have a long record of astute African cultural expression in her videos or lyrics, however in the last couple years this has changed dramatically as she has loudly expressed both her dissatisfaction with police violence (the half time show of Super Bowl L) and her affinity with Yoruba deities. For example, in the song “Hold Up” from the visual album Lemonade Yoruba symbolism and imagery was abounding throughout, as was her 2017 pregnancy photo shoot. To elaborate, the website OkayAfrica.com featured an article discussing precisely this issue in February 2017; author Damola Durosomo argues that Beyonce’s video “showed the singer floating underwater while draped in bright yellow garments. Many have noticed that the images contain references to Oshun, the Yoruba orisha of love and fertility.” As an American cultural icon, her effort to positively and beautifully display African cultural imagery cannot be understated.
The Ifá tradition is a powerful spiritual tradition that survived the horrors of the middle passage and American enslavement only to develop into one of the more diverse religious systems on the planet. Ifá is rarely grouped in conversations concerning the world most wide spread and impactful religions, which is quite unfortunate given the richness of the practice. However, this highlights perhaps the most critical strength of Ifá in that it does not need the same commercial appeal as other religions. It exists as both a function of survival and cultural pride for African people in the New World. Meaning, as long as Ifá exists it stands as a beacon of cultural strength and nuance that has helped to maintain a sense of dignity and solidarity for Africans in the New World unlike any other philosophy or phenomena. As such, Ifá anchors Africana America to Africa through that all too critical element of culture: memory.
 Timothy O. McCartney. Ten, Ten, the Bible Ten: Obeah in the Bahamas. (Timpaul Publishing Company, 1976).
 John Savage. "" Black magic" and white terror: slave poisoning and colonial society in early 19th century Martinique." journal of social history 40, no. 3 (2007): 635-662.
 Ibid, 636.
 Jerome S. Handler. "Slave Medicine and Obeah in Barbados, circa 1650 to 1834." New West Indian Guide/Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 74, no. 1-2 (2000): 57-90.
 Oríshá means Gods or Saints in the Yoruba language; Shango is the Ifá God of iron.
 James Houk. Spirits, blood and drums: the Orisha religion in Trinidad. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010), xii.
 Ibid., xii. Particular European Protestantism and Catholicism as well as Hindu and Hebrew Kabbalah.
 “Gullah and Geechee Culture.” http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/geechee-and-gullah-culture. Accessed April 2017.
 Oyotunji Village, http://www.oyotunji.org/. Accessed April 2017.
 “Beyonce Channeled the Yoruba deities Oshun and Yemoja For Her Pregnancy Shoot.” http://www.okayafrica.com/in-brief/beyonce-channeled-yoruba-goddess-oshun-maternity-photoshoot/. Accessed April 2017.
 Ibid. To be fair the entire album was replete with Ifá imagery.
This series has gone through some of the major ports of African spiritual disembarkation: Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and the United States, however, these are not the only locations where Africans were seasoned nor were they the only sites where Ifá developed into syncretic belief systems. All throughout the Caribbean as well as North and South America there are scores of variant forms of African syncretic religion. In Guyana for instance there is the Comfa tradition which is a term to generally describe the manipulation of spirits and spiritual energy. More precisely, Comfa refers to anyone who becomes entranced or possessed by beating drums, a key component of all African syncretic systems. As well, Comfa was developed not only from the Ifá traditions but as well it was built on diverse religious nuances of both Western and Eastern traditions.
The pantheon of the Comfa religion encapsulates a wide range of ethnic traditions beyond those of West Africa: Amerindian, Chinese, East Indian (Hindu), English, Dutch and Spanish. Accordingly, among the Guyanese, diversity is celebrated. By extension, the pantheon and structure of the religion is reflective of the highly diverse population. To explain, the Comfa cosmos is structured as such: Heaven or the Heights is reflective of the Christian ethereal plane, consisting of angels, biblical prophets and the apostles of Jesus. On the Earthly plane, there are spirits which exist to help guide humanity; they consist of entrees, deities, family and friends. The entrées are spiritual representatives of the seven ethnic groups of Guyana that make up the highly diverse population. These beings are ancestral agents and represent the African, Amerindian, Chinese, Dutch, Spanish, English and East Indian ancestors of the country as well they signify the cultural diversity of Guyanese history.
The deities consist of Hindu and Amerindian Gods and represent the polytheistic nature of East and West Indian religious traditions. The family and friends of the Comfa tradition are those who are kin or acquaintances of the entrees and deities who may or may not have at one time occupied the Earthly plane. These spirits are known as the terrestrials as they are Earth bound. They mainly occupy spaces close to bodies of water – seas, oceans and rivers – and work on behalf of humans and mother Earth herself. As well, for Comfa practitioners the Earth is an entity of great importance because she provides all that humans need. Further, Mother Earth is signified as an African woman who is both protective and destructive, exhibiting the necessary duality of the mortal plane. Kean Gibson, author of the article “Guyana Comfa and Cultural Identity”, elaborates: “Within her bowels are the graveyard spirits, and the wandering spirits (spirits who have been invoked from the grave and not returned) move over her. Thus Mother Earth is destructive and generative at the same time.” Mother Earth is not God but a manifestation of God who is the beginning and end of all things ethereal and telluric.
Furthermore, the composition of the Comfa spiritual universe is not necessarily the heavenly bodies (e.g., stars, planets and/or constellations) instead the Comfa universe consists of the plants, animals, trees and bodies of water. Moreover, within Comfa cosmology humans are the conduits of power (both good and evil) as well as the epicenters of experience on the planet. To explain, according to Comfa belief humans are endowed with two spirits which illuminate themselves most clearly at high noon when the sun is highest in the sky. At this time of day two shadows appear: one that walks alongside the person and is a benevolent spirit meant help people through life and one that walks behind a person which is the evil or demonic spirit, known as jumbie(s). Gibson elaborates, “The demon spirit is capable of good and bad. It is capable of good by offering assistance, but one has to make pledges for the assistance. If these promises are not kept the spirits torment, chastise and possibly kill you.” Both spirits represent the duality of humanity and serve as reminders of the delicate balance of diverging energies on Earth.
Historically, the population of Guyana is slated towards diversity not hegemony, which greatly impacts how the religion is accepted by the populace as well as how other religions interact with Comfa. To explain, the practice of Voodoo and Obeah had a very particular relationship to their respective colonial governments. Both of the spiritual systems were an integral element of Haiti and Jamaica’s violent efforts to free themselves from the oppressive French and English colonial governments; Voodoo and Obeah were the weapons of change for the people of those islands. Comfa practitioners however was able established a relationship with the government as well as the other religious and cultural institutions of the country, allowing the belief system to be practiced openly and recognized as a part of the wondrous diversity of Guyana. Jeremy Peretz, author of Comfa, Obeah and Emancipation: Celebrating Guyanese Freedoms While Captive in Cultural Politics, elaborates: “Comfa is often equated with Obeah in popular thought, although far fewer people openly identify as practitioners of Obeah, unlike Comfa, of which more are proud to be participants. Perhaps this comes from years of stigma directed towards Obeah, or because of Comfa’s relationship to more “orthodox” forms of religion under colonial rule, particularly Christianity.”
Moreover, for the Guyanese populace the practice of Comfa is very closely tied their understanding and preservation of memory. To expound, Guyanese Emancipation is directly connected to the observance and celebration of cultural phenomena like Comfa which was integral to the movement towards freedom for the country’s marginalized population. Accordingly, a major element of Comfa practice is the observance and reenactment of the events and personalities that helped to establish emancipation in Guyana through dramas, plays, and dances. Peretz states, “through narrating, and at times through ritual embodying these Guyanese histories of Emancipation and related social processes, new or alternate interpretations and meanings surrounding those events may be generated and employed in understanding and confronting similar social issues today.” The Guyanese emphasis on memory and its narrative, even when it is manipulated to deal with present day issues, makes Comfa a high functioning spiritual tradition because it helps practitioners to connect to their history and consciously uses that history to deal with contemporary issues.
Moreover, in Comfa practice unlike Obeah there is a deliberate effort to be as ecumenical as possible. Peretz states, “Diverging from a view that forced missionization and forceful Christian proselytization largely account for the prominence of Church-like structures and other features in Comfa and earlier Faithist and Jordanite religions, these movements may have intentionally adopted such features not only in sincere faith, but also as tactics in gaining legitimacy for their practices.” Comfa, as a collective practice it seems, consciously seeks out diversity as a method of legitimacy as well as a means of adjusting to the great diversity of Guyana. This is likely the reason why Comfa is practiced by a wide array of people in Guyana. Simply put, the practice of Comfa provides an example of religious ecumenism that the rest of the planet could learn from and expound upon.
 Kean Gibson. Comfa religion and Creole language in a Caribbean community. (Albany: SUNY Press, 2001), 1. The author argues that there is a close connection to Comfa and Obeah in Guyana.
 Ibid., 1. Jeremy Jacob Peretz. Comfa, Obeah and Emancipation: Celebrating Guyanese Freedoms While Captive in Cultural Politics. (UCLA Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2015).
 Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, ed. Fragments of Bone: Neo-African African Religions in the New World. Kean Gibson, “Guyana Comfa and Cultural Identity”. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 209.
 Ibid., 209.
 Jeremy Jacob Peretz. Comfa, Obeah and Emancipation: Celebrating Guyanese Freedoms While Captive in Cultural Politics. (UCLA Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2015), 20-21.
 Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, ed. Fragments of Bone: Neo-African African Religions in the New World. Kean Gibson, “Guyana Comfa and Cultural Identity”. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 210. Bodies of water are extremely important in Comfa practice. Evidence suggests reverence for water comes from Amerindian beliefs or the Mami Water spirit of West Africa.
 Ibid., 210.
 Kean Gibson. Comfa religion and Creole language in a Caribbean community. (Albany: SUNY Press, 2001), 25.
 Ibid., 25-26.
 Ibid., 26.
 Jeremy Jacob Peretz. Comfa, Obeah and Emancipation: Celebrating Guyanese Freedoms While Captive in Cultural Politics. (UCLA Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2015), 20.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 23.
The isle of Jamaica has a very turbulent history and is one of the most spiritually diverse nations on the planet. On this small land mass the Anglican church has to share spiritual space with Rastafarianism, variations of Islam, Buddhism, and syncretic African belief systems. Though the population of this nation is very small slavery, colonization, and immigration have brought a wide range of cultural and spiritual diversity to the island. As such, there is much to be said about Jamaica’s religious history and spiritual development particularly with regard to African syncretism. Further, though this series has been an investigation into Ifá traditions of the diaspora, the word Obeah is Ashanti and the Obeah and Myal belief systems are primarily of Ghanaian origin. However, the Obeah and Myal belief systems are a culmination of a number of different African spiritual traditions which also includes the Ifá tradition. This essay will examine the foundation of Jamaica’s syncretic systems with a particular focus on the development of Obeah and Myalism and their cultural impact.
Syncretic African religions in the new world share a number of qualities and characteristics that connect them. That is to say, Jamaican Obeah and Myalism is very similar to Haitian Voodoo, Brazilian Condomblé, and Cuban Santería in that they are centered on belief in a high-God and intermediaries, ancestor veneration, the use of herbs for healing as well as a focus on dance and music. These qualities connect African religions in the Americas to those in Africa, but they also form a basic structural outline of religion belief among African people regardless of the geographic context. Additionally, the differences between African syncretic belief systems is more than semantic as each tradition will have their particular nuances that may or may not translate cross-culturally.
Historically in Jamaica, English colonizers and enslavers considered the practice of Obeah as a ‘black’ or malevolent religious practice. To be clear however, Obeah was used as a weapon against the cruelties of the enslavers. Meaning, the violence of Obeah was merely a reactive phenomenon to environment circumstances, not an innate element of the culture. Nevertheless, the Obeah belief system was forced into the shadows and could not be practiced openly because of its use during the Tacky Rebellion. Due to this, the belief system was not able to establish the necessary religiosity (substantive religious rites and/or a community of believers) that other syncretic African belief systems were able to establish. Olmos and Paravisini-Gilbert’s text Creole Religions of the Caribbean speaks to this: they argue that Obeah “differs from Vodou and Santería in lacking the established liturgy and community rituals that mark [them] as recognized organized religions, although certain communities in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are working on the recovery of communal practices [of] Obeah.”
Furthermore, Obeah was such a powerful belief system in Jamaica that it is citied as the reason for Tacky’s Rebellion. This rebellion was organized and executed by a Fanti Chief named Takyi (Akan spelling) and Queen Akua in order to take control of the island-nation. The brutality of this rebellion is eclipsed only by the Haitian Rebellion that occurred thirty years later. During the rebellion, Takyi and his cohort slaughtered a number of English planters, commandeered weapons and recruited hundreds across the Island. Olmos and Paravisini-Gilbert state: “From the Obeahmen, slaves had learned the usefulness of poison (particularly that of the manchenil tree) to bring about death in a broad variety of injuries and illnesses, the use of slivers of glass or ground glass in the master’s food or drink, and the production of fetishes for luck and protection.” Though the rebellion was not successful, it lasted for weeks. As well, it took months for the British authorities to capture all of the rebels. Accordingly, the fact that the uprising was led by Obeahmen was cause for great concern to the English colonists and led to the practice of Obeah to be outlawed under penalty of death.
However, on the other side of the spiritual spectrum Myal or Myalism for many on the island of Jamaica represents ‘good magic’ to Obeah’s ‘bad magic.’ Myal is a by-product of Obeah and Christian revivalism of Jamaica. It features many of the same attributes of Obeah but Myal is more centered on the interplay between the spirits and the people. To explain, Olmos and Paravisini-Gilbert argue Myal dance is much more community oriented than Obeah. They state: “The ritual of the Myal dance, a hypnotic dancing in circles under the leader’s direction, involved as well a mesmerizing opening for the entrance of the spirit in the body of the initiate, providing a bridge between the spirit possession characteristic of Afro-Creole practices and the filling with the Holy Spirit found in some variants of New World Christianity.” For Myal, the Lao and the Holy Spirit serve very similar functions: conduits between the creator and humanity.
Further, during the enslavement period there was a clear distinction between Myalism and Obeah. Joseph J. Williams, author of Voodoo and Obeahs: Phases of West Indian Witchcraft argues that “even the masters saw that the two classes were not identical, and so they called the latter 'Myal men' and 'Myal women'-the people who cured those whom the Obeah man had injured.” While Obeah was believed to be a nefarious cult, Myalism represented the cool or benevolent side of syncretic African religions in Jamaica. As well, with Myalism being the benevolent system it was not proscribed like Obeah was. However, it is more prudent to understand both syncretic systems as neutral by nature because human spiritual systems are only reflective of the people and their circumstances. Meaning, Obeah only served the needs of oppressed Africans whom were seeking freedom by any means necessary; the violence of the belief system and its practitioners is only symptomatic of the brutal environment.
 Leonard E. Barrett. The Rastafarians. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1997), 4.
 Lizabeth Paravisini-Gerbert and Margarite Fernandez Olmos. Creole religions of the Caribbean: An introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo. (New York: New York University Press, 2011). Ivor Morrish. Obeah, Christ, and Rastaman: Jamaica and its religion. (James Clarke & Co., 1982).
 Lizabeth Paravisini-Gerbert and Margarite Fernandez Olmos. Creole religions of the Caribbean: An introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo. (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 155. Kwasi Konadu. The Akan Diaspora in the Americas. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 139-140. In this text the author also argues that Obeah has roots in Ghanaian culture.
 Lizabeth Paravisini-Gerbert and Margarite Fernandez Olmos. Creole religions of the Caribbean: An introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo. (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 12-13.
 Ibid., 155-158. For example, there are two methods of religious practice for Jamaican Obeah. The first involves ritualized spells that can be used for either benevolent or nefarious purposes depending on the user and their intentions; the second involves herbal healing practices not unlike Hoodoo and Lucumí
 Nick Davis. Obeah: Resurgence of Jamaican ‘Voodoo’. BBC News. www.bbc.com, August 13, 2013. Accessed February 2017.
 Lizabeth Paravisini-Gerbert and Margarite Fernandez Olmos. Creole religions of the Caribbean: An introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo. (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 158.
 Alan Richardson. “Romantic Voodoo: Obeah and British Culture 1797-1807.” Studies in Romanticism (Boston University, 1993), Vol. 32, No. 1, 3-28.
 Lizabeth Paravisini-Gerbert and Margarite Fernandez Olmos. Creole religions of the Caribbean: An introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo. (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 157.
 D.A. Bisnauth. History of Religions in the Caribbean. (Trenton: Africa World Press, Inc. 1996), 83. Nick Davis. Obeah: Resurgence of Jamaican ‘Voodoo’. BBC News. www.bbc.com, August 13, 2013. Accessed February 2017. This article discussed the history of Obeah prohibition and the possibility that its forbidden status may soon be abolished.
 D.A. Bisnauth. History of Religions in the Caribbean. (Trenton: Africa World Press, Inc. 1996), 96.
 Lizabeth Paravisini-Gerbert and Margarite Fernandez Olmos. Creole religions of the Caribbean: An introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo. (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 145.
 Joseph J. Williams. Voodoo and Obeahs: Phases of West Indian Witchcraft. (New York: Dial Press, 1932), 145.
 Dianne M. Stewart. Three eyes for the journey: African dimensions of the Jamaican religious experience. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 10-11.
In New Orleans there is a trinity of cultural expression that has been shaped into a neat pocket of ethnic convergence that contributes to the maintenance of African religious belief in the diaspora. This triad consists of: Native American (which represent as many as 50 particular ethnic/religious groups), European (Spanish and French Catholicism) and African culture (focused mainly on the Yoruba Ifa’ tradition but also includes Ewe, Fon, Kongo and Akan religious sensibilities). These three traditions form a point of convergence in New Orleans that makes the culture of the city (its art, music, architecture and cuisine) extremely unique. By extension, this tripod has blended together to form a spiritual tradition that is both enigmatic and utterly exposed in American culture, known as Voodoo.
To explain, most in the American populace have familiarity with Voodoo as the infamous mystery cult of Black magic however, what most people do not know or choose not to acknowledge is that Voodoo is a rich American religious tradition that has philosophically impacted and culturally shaped the American South. Appropriately, American author and researcher Zora Neale Hurston worked hard to demonstrate the beauty of Voodoo culture. To elaborate, Hurston consistently used Voodoo in her writing to display the mystery and beauty of the religious system. As well, she studied anthropology at Columbia University in order to gain the necessary skill to study how Haitian and Jamaican Voodoo were practiced in the Caribbean context. To compliment this effort Hurston also was initiated at several Voodoo ceremonies, providing her with the necessary insight not only to write creatively on the subject but critically as well. Based on her experiences she wrote Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica. This offering fell short academically; nevertheless, she gave the practice of Voodoo a degree of academic seriousness at a time when most regarded the belief system as little more than cult. Furthermore, Hurston understood that researching the practice of Voodoo in the Western Hemisphere is an analysis of the connective tissue that culturally unites African people in the Americas.
To elaborate, in her travels, Hurston also spent a considerable amount of time in New Orleans, researching on, writing about, and participating in Voodoo ceremonies. One of the people she became familiar with through popular narrative is Marie Laveau, a well-known New Orleans Voodoo Queen of the nineteenth century. Laveau, and her daughter by the same name, were legendary Voodoo priestesses with a following that was not just centered on Louisiana’s African population instead their influence was broadly multicultural. Laveau the first was born of creole woman and European man of French ancestry in the late 18th century; her daughter, Laveau the second, was born in 1827 and also was well known for her mystical prowess. These two women controlled the spiritual life of New Orleans collectively for decades during the 19th century as well their spirit is still summoned by thousands of the faithful in New Orleans during annual pilgrimages.
On the other side of the gender spectrum there are a number of Voodoo Kings that dominated New Orleans spiritual life. Jean Montaigne (also known as Doctor John, Bayou John and/or Prince John) is one of New Orleans most well-known Voodoo Kings and a late contemporary of Queen Laveau the first. Voodoo legend claims that he was originally from Senegal and was brought to the American South sometime in the mid to late 19th century. He learned the mystical arts in Senegal and continued his practice in New Orleans with an already well established Voodoo community. He passed his art down to Fred “Chicken Man” Staten, another key personality of the New Orleans conjure community. The Chicken Man was born in Haiti 1937 and traveled with his family to New Orleans at a very young age. His family believed he had particular gifts in the mystical arts, a point he validated by studying under Doctor John in New Orleans. Staten also made many trips to Haiti to perfect his supernatural craft again demonstrating the cultural connectedness of African religious culture in the Western Hemisphere.
The personalities of New Orleans Voodoo help define the craft. Meaning, the individuals discussed above are well known because of a very grassroots following that comes from a Voodoo Queen or King’s reputation. Without a reputation there is no power to speak of and no legends that will attract the faithful. Given this, one of the major ways a Voodoo Queen or King can build their reputation is through healing. To elaborate, within Voodoo, as with other conjure traditions of the Western Hemisphere, there is an herbalist or pharmacopeic element called Hoodoo. Practitioners of Voodoo use Hoodoo for any and all medicinal needs that their devotees might need or desire, everything from a lonely heart to cancer. Hoodoo as a component of Voodoo is sometimes practiced independently or in conjunction with Christianity. Hence, one can be Christian and practice Hoodoo without contradiction.
As well, New Orleans Voodoo is an extremely unique religious manifestation, not just because it is a syncretic belief system, but also because it is an element of the syncretic belief structure of Spiritual Churches. The first spiritual church was founded by Mother Leafy Anderson in Chicago during the early 1920s, but Claude Jacobs and Andrew Kaslow in the text The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans, argue that Anderson did not actually found the spiritual movement, because the Spiritual Church movement was already a key component of New Orleans religious culture. Instead, they argue Anderson founded the institutionalization of the Spiritual Church movement that was already well established throughout Louisiana. Meaning, Anderson established the physical church for worshipers and lifted the movement out of New Orleans so that people across the country could be exposed the spiritual system.
Interestingly, New Orleans Voodoo molded the Spiritual Churches into a syncretic Christian belief system derived from a syncretic Ifá tradition. Jacobs and Klaslow argue that “It was within the context of south Louisiana’s diverse religious traditions, Europeans and African, Catholics and Protestant, orthodox and unorthodox institutional and popular, that the Spiritual Churches came into being.” New Orleans Voodoo is compiled of the same religious material as Spiritual Churches, and both religions would not be what they are without its diverse components. Unfortunately, today New Orleans Voodoo has been reduced to a tourist attraction and trinkets in gift shops as well it heroes/heroines have been reduced to rumors and some of its legends such as the “seven sisters” have all but disappeared entirely from history. Nevertheless, the religion has shaped the culture of New Orleans in beautiful ways and stands as an eternal reminder of the splendor and dynamic nature of African religion.
 Claude F. Jacobs and Andrew J. Kaslow. The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans: Origins, Beliefs, and Rituals of an African-American Religion. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2001), 21. Though I argue that the Yoruba Ifá tradition is most prominent in New Orleans Voodoo, it must be noted that just as the city was an amalgam of diverging ethnicities, there are a number of African traditions that stand out beyond the Yoruba. The authors state: “While slaves destine for Louisiana were taken from several regions of Africa, linguistic and cultural evidence along with the designations used by eighteenth-century slave traders place the primary sources as ‘Guinea, the Gold Coast and Angola’: the main groups initially were identified as ‘Mandinkas, Fon, Bambara, Fanti, Gambians and Senegalese’; later arrivals included large numbers said to be ‘Guineans, Yorubas, Igbo and Angolans.’” From: Thomas Marc Fiehrer. “The African Presence in Colonial Louisiana: An Essay on the Continuity of Caribbean Culture.” Louisiana’s Black Heritage, ed. Robert R. Macdonald, John R. Kemp and Edward F. Hass, 3-31. New Orleans: Louisiana State Museum.
 Wendy Dutton. “The Problem of Invisibility: Voodoo and Zora Neale Hurston.” Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2, 131.
 Zora Neale Hurston. Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Hait and Jamaica. (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1990).
 Wendy Dutton. “The Problem of Invisibility: Voodoo and Zora Neale Hurston.” Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2, 132.
 Martha Ward. Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009) ix.
 Ibid., xii-xii. Ina J. Fandrich. The Mysterious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux: A Study of Powerful Female Leadership in Nineteenth Century New Orleans. (New York: Routledge, 2016).
 John W. Blassingame. Black New Orleans, 1860-1880. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 23.
 Kenaz Filan. The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook. (Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2011), 98-107.
 Hoodoo is to Voodoo, what Lucumí is to Santería.
 Claude F. Jacobs and Andrew J. Kaslow. The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans: Origins, Beliefs, and Rituals of an African-American Religion. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2001), 32.
 Ibid., 31.
 Investigation into the seven sisters brings up a myriad of conflicting information from the name brand of voodoo products in New Orleans (i.e., sacred ceremonial oils) to a cult group of seven Voodoo priestesses (including the Laveaus) who dominated the Voodoo underground throughout 19th century New Orleans.
One of the most popular and infamous Ifá traditions in the New World is Voodoo. In the minds of many, the word Voodoo conjures up images of human sacrifice and pin laden human effigies used to torture unsuspecting victims, making it one of the most misunderstood and highly villainized religious traditions on the planet. This essay will focus on Haitian Voodoo which is rooted in a combination of Yoruba Ifá, French Catholicism, charismatic Christianity and the indigenous belief system of the island collectively known as Hispaniola. Again, the common element that strings together the Ifá tradition in the New World is the effortlessness with which syncretism shapes the belief systems. Yoruba Ifá made syncretism not only possible but easy for those under the yoke of European oppression to retain their cultural expressions and traditions. Maya Deren, author of Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti, elaborates on this point; she states, “Voudoun was a collective creation, it did not exact the abandonment of one tribal deity in favor of another. On the contrary, it seemed rather to delight in as generous an inclusion as possible.”
The word Vodu has origins in the Ewe and Fon languages and has a very generic meaning: spirit or deity. There is also a French version of the word, Vodou, which loosely translated means “servants of the spirits”. These translations provide clues as to how practitioners of Haitian Voodoo interact with the religion. That is to say, within Haitian Voodoo there is a pronounced give-and-take that must take place between humans and deities for the spiritual system to be effective. Meaning, Voodoo practitioners must serve the Gods they implore for favors and blessings; if they pray for something or appeal to the Gods to intervene on their behalf, they must be prepared to provide equitable service to the spirits in order to balance the scales. It is understood that many of the Gods will not even begin to move on a person’s behalf until tribute is paid.
Within Haitian Voodoo there is focused attention given to two particular families or methods of religious practice: Rada and Petra. Rada Voodoo represents the protective posture of the Loa who are more easygoing and cool in their temperament. The Petra Loa, on the other hand are “more hard, more tough, more stern; less tolerant and forgiving, more practical and demanding.” Together these two groups form the yin and yang of Haitian Voodoo. However, not only are there two philosophical families within Haitian Voodoo, each of the Lao also have their own distinct personality and style. One way to recognize the distinctions between the Lao and their personalities is through music and dance. To explain, there are opposing drumming styles which signify the Rada and Petra elements of Voodoo. Rada drumming, for instance, is on-beat using an even time measure; whereas, Petra drumming is off-beat (idiosyncratic) using an odd time signature. So, when drumming begins within a Voodoo ceremony devotees can easily recognize the Lao family from the time measure of the beat. Moreover, through drumming devotees can also identify which specific Gods are being called by the tempo of the rhythm. This point illuminates a very unique aspect of Haitian Voodoo, in that it is the rhythm of the drums that call forth the Gods.
Further, whereas other religions verbally call on a specific saint or use certain totems/idols to address particular deities, Voodoo practitioners use the time measure and tempo of the drum to call forth the Lao. As well, during Voodoo ceremonies when the drumming develops into a syncopated rhythm it is an indication that multiple Lao are being called forth. The Lao’s presence is evident when the faithful begin to dance. Further, during the ceremony, when movements speed up and get more feverish, it is an indication that devotees have been mounted by the Lao becoming horses to be ridden by the Gods. Rhythmically and spiritually these human steeds must be up to the task of carrying their respective Lao, as the Haitian proverb suggests: “Great Gods cannot ride little horses”.
Structurally, certain traditions of the Ifá diaspora, like Candomblé, use the same name for the primary deity, Oludumaré, as Yoruba Ifá. However, within the paradigm of Haitian Voodoo the expression Bondye, derived from the French Bon Dieu, signifies the name of the all-encompassing God. Consequently, this deity has all the same the attributes as Oludumare, that is, a high-god who is unapproachable by humans and requires intermediaries, the Loa, to communicate and interact with humanity. The Lao are a very active component of Haitian Voodoo and it is for Yoruba Ifá; they are summoned through music and dance but also through the drawing of vevers: sacred symbols of the Lao drawn by devotees as a method of communicating the sacredness of a particular space. To elaborate, vevers are usually drawn on the ground and in close proximity to an area or space that is deemed holy by the Loa. In construction of vevers flour or ashes are used in making the sacred designs contrast with the dark soil upon which the language is drawn; Deren elaborates on the process: “The drawing of vevers requires real technical skill. A small amount of flour is picked up between the thumb and forefinger and let sift on the ground while the hand moves in the line of the form which the vever is to take.” Each of the Loa has their own particular vever which require certain features. For example, a cross, a symbol of the boundary between this spiritual plane and the next, is necessary for Ghede’s vever because he is the lord of life and death.
Evidence suggests that the origin of vevers is not in the Yoruba Ifá culture, but in the cryptograms of Kongolese (Congo) cultures of central Africa. These cryptograms are used to symbolize the dynamics of the cosmos as well as provide a narrative of a human being’s position in and trek through life. Within the structure of Haitian Voodoo they serve the same function with added attention to the Lao who themselves are the governors of human life within the cosmos. Robert Farris Thompson, author of Flash of the Spirit, elaborates on the construction and purpose of vevers: “Symmetrically disposed and symmetrically rendered, they praise, summon and incarnate all at once the Vodun deities of Haiti.” Overall, the practice of Haitian Voodoo provides very strong examples of the maintenance of African culture outside of the salt water borders of the continent. As well it provides clear examples of Pan-African cultural development through incorporation of particular expressions that are not strictly Yoruba. Consequently, it has a firm place within the pantheon of world religions.
 Madison Smartt Bell. Toussaint Louverture: A Biography. (New York: Pantheon, 2007), 6.
 Carolyn E. Fick. The Making of Haiti: The Saint Dominque Revolution from Below. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2004), 43. All religious practice, except for Catholicism, was outlawed in the colony. By extension, those enslaved were baptized in the Catholic church. However, the religious, as well as the educational instruction of the slaves was never seriously or widely undertaken, either by the masters or by the church. Thus, superficially, many of the ritualistic aspects of Catholicism appeared in voodoo, but consciously adapted and reinterpreted by enslaved Africans to accord with their own religious beliefs.
 Maya Deren. Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti. (New York: McPherson & Company, 1970), 59.
 Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=voodoo. (accessed December 2016).
 Donald J. Cosentino. Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou. (Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History), 25-55.
 Maya Deren. Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti. (New York: McPherson & Company,1970), 60.
 Ibid., 61.
 Ibid. This proverb appeared in the opening pages of the book before the contents.
 Maya Deren. Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti. (New York: McPherson & Company, 1970), 204-205.
 Ibid., 204.
 Ibid., 36-38. There are several examples of other vevers throughout this text.
 Robert Farris Thompson. Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy. (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), 188. Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau. African Cosmology of the Bântu-Kôngo, Tying the Spiritual Knot: Principles of Life and Living. (Athelia Henrietta Press, 2001), 127-150.
 Robert Farris Thompson. Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy. (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), 188. It is likely that vevers were introduced to the Ifá tradition before Europeans encroached upon Africans lands due to the proximity that the Kongo and Yoruba share, however, blending of the cultures was definitely intensified as a result of the Transatlantic slave trade because African peoples were many times lumped together.